Be a Better Leader and Avoid Getting Downsized


Boomers face the increasing perception that they are getting long in the tooth, and that younger managers are better prepared to lead project teams going forward. Yet the truth is that over 80% of corporate managers are not only ill-suited to their jobs, but their lack of leadership negatively impacts profitability, productivity and morale. By honing their leadership talents, and demonstrating how maturity, wisdom and life experience can add tangible value, Boomers just might find themselves back on top.

As Gallup reported in 2013, barely 30% of U.S. workers feel engaged in their jobs, and the reason for this alienation is 70% attributable to managers’ behavior. For 20 years, Christine Porath, a Georgetown University business professor, has studied the effects bad managers have on employees, and, as she wrote in the New York Times, incivility in the work place is on the rise. Employees who work for or around a rude or disrespectful manager have difficulty concentrating, are less likely to contribute ideas, and make more avoidable mistakes, driving down productivity.

Yet our business culture continues to condone arrogant, insulting and even abusive behavior on the mistakenly Darwinian notion that such conduct reflects strength, demonstrates decisiveness and produces results. Wrong, wrong and wrong. Porath’s studies have found that civility, warmth and acknowledgment are more effective drivers of productivity and positive business metrics. In one case, civil managers were twice as likely to be viewed as leaders in their company. Small behavior adjustments can have big and lasting impacts, including simple things like smiling and making eye contact, and greeting people by name.

As I have previously reported, the quality of Potential, i.e. what a manager will be able to do in the future, vs. what they have done in the past, is a more effective predictor of management success. Rather than rely on their resume of previous accomplishments and skills, tomorrow’s leaders are more likely to rise through the ranks because they are motivated to serve, are curious about the world around them, insightful about solving problems, engaged with providing solutions, and determined to succeed.

Deidre Paknad, CEO and co-founder of project management platform Workboard, has identified four important leadership qualities – not skills – that help establish a leader’s effectiveness in today’s increasingly team-based work environment:

1. Clarity of vision. A leader needs to both understand and communicate goals to their team.

2. Engaging the team. A leader must be able to assign and coordinate the right tasks with the right people, and make sure each team member is validated and inspired.

3. Awareness of change. A leader must always be on the lookout for external factors that could influence, help or disrupt their team’s progress and success – and be willing to engage constructively to support the team in negotiating change.

4. Understanding Context. A mission is always driven by whom it serves. A strong leader is mindful of both internal and external “customers” who will be impacted by the team’s work, and provides the perspective to prevent the team from getting side-tracked.

Paknad’s four qualities provide a great working framework for Boomers to ratchet up their leadership abilities. Additionally, Boomers have the life experience to provide an additional layer of mastery to the positive management process:

Motivation through empathy: when we listen and connect with our team members in a heart-felt, concerned manner, we are more likely to both inspire and instill confidence in our colleagues, leading to greater engagement and contribution.

Integrity and expression: when we are driven by deeply-held personal values, arrived at by successfully surviving life’s challenges, we are able to stand confidently in our leadership, being open to constructive ideas, but also setting appropriate boundaries to protect our work, and the work of our team.

Leading by giving: a better leader is always the first one to rise to a challenge, and always puts their team members first. Their willingness to serve the needs of their team members in service to achieving success engenders loyalty within the team, and respect across the organization.

Making fair decisions: a better leader isn’t afraid to make tough, considered decisions, and is always 100% transparent in sharing the reasoning behind them, even if it means revealing their vulnerabilities. In this context, vulnerability is strength. Letting the team in on the process, even if it is after the fact, includes them and gives them the opportunity to also own the decision with the team leader.

The 21st century is a challenging time in business. The good news, I believe, is that poor practices cannot be tolerated, and bad actors are less likely to avoid detection as bad performance is increasingly visible in a more transparent environment. Tools like Workboard contribute to this more open, flatter and merit-driven environment, and can be used to promote cohesion, communication and accountability. Boomers looking to translate their value into results will be well-served to shift from the “skills and experience” career approach we were raised on, to the more “qualities and values” approach that characterizes this new age.

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John Tarnoff is a career transition coach, speaker and best-selling author who helps late-career professionals transition to meaningful second-act careers beyond traditional retirement.

Following a successful career as a Hollywood film executive and tech entrepreneur, he reinvented his own career at 50, earning a master’s degree in Spiritual Psychology to focus on professional development and training.

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